Austerity in the Himalayas
IN THE END, her family was no longer able to keep the bird in captivity!
Mridani, later named Gauri Ma, dressed herself as a sannyosini and began to wander with a group of sadhus and sannyasinis. Most of the time they travelled on foot, sometimes by train. Along the way they visited many shrines and holy places, and, in about three months. they reached Hardwar. From there, they proceeded to Rishikesh.
Rishikesh! The land of tapasya! Nestled at the foot of the majestic Himalayas, an incomparable, holy place of pilgrimage! Now, in this purified atmosphere, there were no longer any obstacles in Gauri Ma's path. To reach the supreme goal of human life, the highest refuge of those drowning in worldly attachments, the supreme abode of bliss, the Lord of All, she determined to practice austerity ceaselessly, tirelessly. To obtain a vision of God, Gauri Ma cast aside attachments to home and family. She resigned herself to the Lord, for the love of whom she had given up the peaceful and loving shelter of her parents and all the comforts of the world. With devotion, she now began her tapasya at the foot of the Himalayas.
For such a devotee, whose every thought was constantly centered on the Lord and who had no other support in the world, the Lord joyfully assumed complete responsibility, just as He had promised in the Gita. The Lord helped her through many difficult and trying situations in this land of wild animals, lonely forests, strange mountains. unknown paths, dark and terrifying caves. He gave her help both in external situations and from within herself. so she proceeded rapidly along the spiritual path.
For nearly three years Gauri Ma practiced austerity and went on pilgrimages in that part of the country. She spent time at many famous places of pilgrimage: Devaprayag, Jwalamukhi, Amarnath, Jamnotri, and Gangotri. If she liked a temple or place, she would spend some time practicing her sadhana there. She did not stay with any particular group of sannyasins for an extended period of time; neither did she want to nor was it possible.
In the beginning, physical discomforts like hunger, cold, and strain of walking bothered Gauri Ma, but her body soon became accustomed to them. She would earnestly pray to the Lord that her beauty would not prove to be an obstacle in her path. Sometimes she would smear her face with mud, sometimes with ashes. At times she would cut her hair short or disguise herself as a man. Unless it was absolutely necessary, she would not speak to anyone. She would never choose to spend the night at a strange place, but if she happened to find herself in such a situation, she would pass the entire night in Japa, in meditation, and in singing hymns. She always carried the Damodar Shila around her neck. In a shoulder pack she carried the scriptures Durga Saptashati and the Bhagavatam and pictures of Kali and Chaltanya Mahaprabhu. She also carried such articles as were necessary for daily use.
Many days passed thus – when Gauri Ma would be absorbed in tapasya all day, not asking for alms or eating anything. Sometimes a stranger would come and leave food by her side. In all situations she would remain unperturbed and always absorbed in tapasya.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.